Sunday, 2 August 2015

South Oxhey parkrun

The North West corner of London has been under-represented in terms of parkrun venues, but in the first half of 2015 a cluster of new parkrun events popped up in quick succession around the Watford area giving a few varied options for local runners. Most of the venues are not technically in London, but are within the M25 which kind-of counts.

As you will know from the title of this post, this particular post is about South Oxhey parkrun, which takes place on South Oxhey Playing fields (Oxhey Playing Fields according to the welcome sign). But before I get into any parkrun specific information, I've done my best to briefly go over the history of the immediate area that the park lies within. However, not all of the resources I found had matching information so please forgive me for any inaccuracies..

oxhey or south oxhey playing fields? anyway, welcome [photo: 7t]

It all starts with The Manor of Oxhey whose earliest reference I could find dates back to around 1007. Then somewhere around the year 1500, The Oxhey Hall Estate is mentioned and this covered approximately 500 acres of land. The Oxhey Hall estate was eventually broken up with a large portion probably merged into the nearby Manor of Wiggenhall.

The remaining estate was now known simply as Oxhey. In 1612 a chapel was built and it still stands just a short way south of where our parkrun now resides. The mansion on the estate at this time was known as St. Cleeres. In 1688 St Cleeres was pulled down.

the sight upon entering the park next to the pavilion [photo: 7t]

In 1690 a new mansion was built in the style of Syon House (which is in West London). Now known as Oxhey Place, it survived for 139 years but was eventually demolished in 1799. In 1877 the estate was bought by Thomas Blackwell of Crosse and Blackwell fame and another Oxhey Place looks to have been constructed in 1910. He was a descendant of another Thomas Blackwell who, in 1706, had co-founded the famous pickling company.

By 1912, the area that now forms the park was home to Oxhey golf course, but in 1952 the golf course was closed and the area around it developed into local authority housing. The whole area was renamed South Oxhey and the former golf course became South Oxhey Playing Fields. In 1960, while being used as a medical centre, Oxhey Place burned down.

hanging out at the start line [photo: dani]

On 31 January 2015, South Oxhey playing fields became home to South Oxhey parkrun. The inaugural event attracted 143 participants, but since then the attendance numbers have generally been around the 30-50 mark. I know the organisers are keen to attract more runners, but with many events attracting hundreds of runners, I found it quite refreshing to visit a venue with a lower headcount.

Travelling to the event is relatively straight forward. I travelled over by car and parked in the free car park at the Pavilion pub which is right next to the start/finish area. Had I chosen to travel by public transport I could have taken the overground train to Carpenders Station and walked/jogged the rest of the way (1km).

about to set off [photo: dani]

Alternatively, I could have taken a number 8 bus and alighted at Hayling Road which is just a few minutes walk from the start/finish area. Finally, if travelling by bike, I didn't spot any proper bicycle racks by the start, but I could have secured it to the fence outside the Pavilion beer garden for the duration of the run.

As far as facilities go, there are some toilets in-between the car park and the park - there are no permanent signs on this building and it doesn't look like a toilet. Fortunately, the parkrun organisers have a big sign that they place on the toilet door. Then when you enter the park, it is an open flat-looking playing field. I'm pretty sure that I could see traces of shapes that looked like parts of the former golf course - or I may just have been imagining it.

note the pavilion pub and bicycles locked to the fence [photo: dani]

So, I had a little chat to the core team and found out that they were the people originally looking to start a parkrun in Rickmansworth, but that got canned and they moved their sights to South Oxhey. A couple of minutes before parkrun o'clock the standard parkrun briefing took place. As it is a small venue, the briefing was very relaxed and every single first-timer was individually welcomed during the briefing - you can't do this at larger venues and it certainly added to its charm.

We were then lead about 100 metres or so south to the start line. This course is just under three clockwise laps of the eastern half of the park and can be run entirely on grass if you wish. Broadly speaking, the course is shaped like a rectangle.

coming back down towards the start-finish with my run companions [photo: dani]

The run starts at the lowest point of the park on a flat section and after the first right hand turn its a long steady incline, passing various outcrops of threes, all the way to the furthest point of the course, which is also the highest point. It only rises 15 metres over the course of 800 metres but it does eventually wear you down. Also the grass is uneven in places and there are molehills to look out for as you make your way around.

Once at the highest point of the course it's a good idea to take a glance to back down the hill and admire the nice view, but because of where the outcrops of trees stand, you can't actually see right down to the start area. In fact, from the start area there is absolutely no clue that the route is going to head uphill.

still coming downhill [photo: dani]

The second half of the lap is, of course, downhill. It's not a straight forward even decline; it has sections that dip down and then level out. And once again you have to watch out for uneven ground and molehills otherwise you could get yourself into a bit of a pickle.

About half way down, there is a little shimmy where the course cuts through a darker undercover spot which leads out onto the section where the runners have a choice of continuing onto the tarmac path or sticking to the grass. I imagine this will be quite handy in the winter months as those in spikes can keep to the grass, and those in anything else can take a break from the soft (and possibly muddy) grass.

taking the tarmac path [photo: dani]

This path leads right up to the start/finish area where runners continue around for another lap or, if they are at the end of their third lap, run into the finish funnel, collect a finishing token and get it scanned by one of the lovely volunteers.

When I visited, the barcode scanning was being done by a blind lady who was taking a week off running. She had some assistance from another volunteer who gave a verbal description of the type of barcode being presented (mine was a wristband) and it was scanned in the usual manner. It shows that there are always ways to make, not only the run inclusive, but also the volunteering roles.

waiting to be scanned [photo: dani]

The post-run social is simply a portable coffee van which parks up right next to the finish line. The results were on-line a few hours later. If you're interested in the course profile and all that, my GPS data can be found on Strava.

My daughter Matilda was very eager to go to the Hayling Road Playground so, sadly, we didn't grab a coffee or spend any real time chatting afterwards. For the record it was a great little playground and.....

post-run hammocking [photo: dani]

..... this is the only venue I have visited to date that has the option of chilling in a hammock post-run!










Saturday, 1 August 2015

The Herfordshire parkrun venues

Hertfordshire



Aldenham - Aldenham Country Park, Elstree, Hertfordshire (London+)

Course: Two laps around Aldenham reservoir
Underfoot: Dirt paths, grass and pavement
Profile:
Notes:
Further reading: NOT YET VISITED


Barclay - Barclay Park, Hoddlesdon, Hertfordshire

Course: Three laps
Underfoot: Grass and Tarmac
Profile: Undulating (tbc)
Notes:
Further reading: NOT YET VISITED


Cassiobury - Cassiobury Park, Watford, Hertfordshire (London+)

Course: Two and a half laps
Underfoot: Tarmac
Profile: Flat
Notes: Flat, fast and a very pleasant course (has a couple of tight turns)
Further reading: My Cassiobury parkrun blog post


Gadebridge - Gadebridge Park, Leighton Buzzard Road, Hemel Hempstead

Course: tbc
Underfoot: Tarmac and grass
Profile:
Notes:
Further reading: NOT YET VISITED


Panshanger - Panshanger Park, Thieves Lane Entrance, Hertford, Hertfordshire

Course: 1 lap (or point to point)
Underfoot: trail paths, grass, dirt (mud)
Profile: undulating with a short uphill finish
Notes: fun course in a beautiful country park, but that short uphill finish is tough!
Further reading: My Panshanger parkrun blog post


South Oxhey - South Oxhey Playing Fields, Green Lane, Watford (London+)

Course: Three laps
Underfoot: Grass (you can run about 150 metres each lap on tarmac if you choose)
Profile: Long steady incline / decline on each lap
Notes: You can chill out in a hammock post-run
Further reading: My South Oxhey parkrun blog post


St. Albans - Verulamium Park, St. Albans, Herfordshire

Course: Out - three laps of a lake, then back
Underfoot: Tarmac (grass at the start/finish)
Profile: flat with just the slightest of gradients during the out / back
Notes: Hang around and enjoy some of the Roman history
Further reading: My St. Albans parkrun blog post


Tring - Tring Park, Herfordshire

Course: One lap
Underfoot: Grass, dirt (mud)
Profile: Hilly (from what I hear)
Notes: I hear that it is beautiful
Further reading: NOT YET VISITED



Monday, 27 July 2015

Lesnes Abbey Abbey Abbey Woods junior parkrun 15 - V200

Event 15 at Lesnes Abbey Abbey Abbey junior parkrun saw me take on a few volunteering roles...

  • Run director (inc. briefing)
  • Warm-up leader
  • Barcode Scanner

.. which all worked out fine.

run briefing (apparently me and matilda found something funny) [photo: dani]

A few weeks back, I said that if I ever did the run briefing at a junior parkrun that I would like to do it in the way I saw it being done over at Hilly Fields junior parkrun. However, I didn't quite plan things properly and I ended up just using the standard briefing format. Next time I definitely want to make it a bit snappier. I did have the pleasure of presenting one of the juniors with his half-marathon wrist band.

It was a bit of a special occasion for me as this event marked the 200th event I had been credited with volunteering at across seven different venues. For the record, my total number of credited tasks stands at 223. That's way off what it actually is, but let's not worry about that.

run briefing (again) [photo: dani]

Back to the business of the day, and right up until 5 minutes before the start of the run, Matilda was intent on helping me run direct. I told her that it would be boring and that she should just run, but still she insisted on helping me.

She had volunteered the day before at Dartford parkrun (where I ran) and I wanted to repay the favour. Somewhere between the run briefing and the warm-up she had changed her mind and decided to run.

warm-up [photo: dani]

I hung around the LAAAWjpHQ for the duration of the run and it wasn't long before we had a little stumble and one of the young runners had hurt his knee. Then the rain started and we all got wet.

The remainder of the run was incident-free and the runners soon started streaming through the finish funnel where I was waiting with my zapper, ready to scan all of their barcodes. And there were so many! In fact it was a new LAAAWjp attendance record! [event 15 results]

matilda brought hello kitty along for a run [photo: dani]

Matilda enjoyed her three solo laps and I let her scan her own barcode at the end. The other volunteers made my job look very easy and at the end they all brought back their respective signs and we left the Abbey to it's rainy self for another week. We jumped back in the car and headed home to dry off.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Dartford parkrun 50 - we've only just begun

One year ago, Dartford parkrun joined the parkrun family. What a year it has been.

I quite often go on about number of runs, number of volunteering occasions, number of venues. Pretty much anything that's easy to count or see in black and white. But what doesn't get the same coverage are all those things that you can't count or put on a spreadsheet or a graph. It's a subject that was touched on on the parkrun show fairly often.

a good selection of the core team [photo from a few weeks prior]

Since Dartford parkrun started, I have met so many wonderful people. A lot of whom I can now proudly declare as friends. I have seen people go from nervous first-time-runners to confident regular runners - these same people are totally unaware how much they are inspiring others, but I can see it week in, week out. It is incredible.

We have gone from a small core team of about four people to a much larger core that has slowly crept into double figures. We've gone from a solitary run director to a team of about six - and I have even surprised myself by joining the run director crew - only once so far, but it won't be the last time.

conducting the first-timer briefing [photo: ian childs]

Like all parkruns, we've had trouble attracting volunteers at times, but each week more of our regular runners are gaining the confidence to put on that hi-vis vest and truly begin to understand what parkrun is all about. In my opinion, if you only ever run at parkrun, you are missing a huge part of the experience.

Over the year, we've gone from storing the stanchions in my garage and the cones and signs at Richey and Tessa's house (which meant carrying them there and back each week) to procuring a proper storage box, we've come up with a 'b course' that we can use if the trail gets too soggy, we've had a few runners fall over (including myself), we've been interviewed for the parkrun show and had visitors from near and far.

187 runners head towards the first corner [photo: ian childs]

The three Dartford-based running clubs have given us a huge amount of support - whether it be the use of the facilities at the athletics stadium, providing volunteers or staging takeover events. I am so pleased that we have a great relationship with all three and I like to think that Dartford parkrun has helped to bring us all even closer.

It was quite fitting that members of all three clubs were represented at the tops of both points competition tables.

runners passing angie's corner at event 50 [photo: dani]

We've had a few (four) forced cancellations due to other events in the park. We've had a brief spell of motivational chalk messages on the paths (sadly the council weren't too keen so that's now in the past), we've named sections of the course and have seen numerous parkrun tourists taking selfies with the Mick Jagger statue who has his own parkrun hi-vis vest.

We've recently introduced a 'new runners' or 'first timers' briefing and have got the set-up and close-down processes down to a tee - we sometimes have the whole thing packed away by 10am and the results sent off to parkrun HQ a few minutes after that.

keep right to avoid over-excited volunteers (adam) [photo: ian childs]

There are of course all of the personal achievements - some we see in the results pages and some that we may never have any knowledge of. There are almost as many reasons people find us as there are runners themselves. Some people have come a hell of a long way to get to the point where they feel they can join us for a run around the park. And it's important to remember that there are many barriers to participation and hopefully we can, as a community, help to break them down.

The original course set-up duo of me and Richey expanded to a trio when we were joined by Adam who is one of those people that just understood the ethos behind parkrun from the very beginning. Those Saturday mornings wandering around the park, setting the course up and putting the world to rights have become one of my favourite times of the week (yes, even in the middle of the winter).

dani and matilda [photo: ian childs]

Dani and Matilda have made the end of Mick Jagger's Leg (aka Stones Corner) their own and Tessa has, perhaps unintentionally, become our tech guru! Terry and Jane have become course clear down specialists and numerous other people have found their calling as regular photographers, timers, marshals, scanners, and tail runners.

On a personal level, I have become quite attached to the purple finish-token-holding bum bag that I wear when barcode scanning and I've found being a pacer at our chase-the-pacer events extremely rewarding. In more recent weeks, I have also found that the role of timer is not actually as scary as it once appeared and it's now one of my favourite volunteering roles.

presentation from the mayor [photo: dani]

So with all that in mind, it was time for us to have our first year anniversary run. Coincidentally, it fell on our 50th event, so it was almost like a double celebration.

We've recently had the introduction of the new V25 milestone t-shirts and it was the first weekend that we had multiple people in their new eggplant-coloured tops (as well as a couple in their 50 tees). One of those in eggplant was Richey - my friend and our event director. He has worked tirelessly and selflessly over the last year to make the event the success that it is.

me and richey [photo: ian childs]

To try to spread the pre-run workload, I took on the 'new runner / first-timer briefing' role. It's funny that as soon as those expectant faces gathered around, my mind went completely blank.

Somehow I managed to pull some useful information from the back of my brain and I finished off with a 'does anyone have any questions?' in case I had forgotten anything obvious - which I probably did, but nobody had any questions. It's another role that I could see myself performing on a regular basis.

the top of the male points table 2015

With any parkrun anniversary event comes the yearly points competition prize presentations, and this is where our special guest came into play. We had a visit from the new Mayor of Dartford, Councillor Ian Armitt, and he had agreed to present the awards.

I managed to rack up quite a few points over the first year and had secured my spot at the top of the mens table about two months before the end of the points year. My trophy will sit proudly next to my Riddlesdown points competition shield that I won during the 2011-2012 season.

with the mayor of dartford 2015-16 - cllr ian armitt [photo: ian childs]

The first year has been amazing, but it really is only the beginning of Dartford parkrun. Our attendance figures are slowly creeping upwards (I wouldn't be surprised to be seeing 200+ per week pretty soon) and while growth for growth's sake is not a goal of parkrun, it is a good sign that people are coming along, enjoying themselves, and more importantly coming back. Hopefully to achieve whatever goals they have set themselves and to become part of our community.

While I am of course looking forward to another year at Dartford parkrun, I'm also planning on trying to get out and about touring again now that the core team has grown. But saying that, Dartford parkrun is where you'll mostly find me. Hanging out in a hi-vis vest and going for a run around my local park with my mates.


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